Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, August 10, 2001

Richie Pratt on drums, sax man Tim Tsukiyama, pianist Dan Del
Negro and John Kolivas on bass rehearse for their
gig at Studio 6 this Tuesday night.

Living by the note

Time to breathe is a luxury
in bassist John Kolivas'
world of music

By John Berger

MANY MUSICIANS in Honolulu work several jobs to make a decent living. Few have a more diverse schedule than bassist John Kolivas.

Since the beginning of this month, not only has Kolivas been teaching bass at an orchestra camp at Kamehameha Schools, but he's been preparing for both the 2001-2002 season with the Honolulu Symphony, as well as for a reunion with his long-time friend and mentor, Donald Yap, who'll be his musical director in Diamond Head Theatre's upcoming production of "Jekyll & Hyde."

The Honolulu Jazz Quartet

>> In concert: 8 p.m. Tuesday
>> Place: Studio 6, Musicians Union Building, 949 Kapiolani Blvd.
>> Call: 596-2121
>> Cost: $6

And on top of that, Kolivas enjoys jazz as well. As the leader and spokesman for the Honolulu Jazz Quartet, he spoke about the group's debut at Studio 6 in the Musicians Union building on Tuesday.

"I'm really glad that we're doing our first concert there because you always know there's going to be a crowd that appreciates the music. It's a listening crowd and they go there because they love jazz," Kolivas said.

The core of the HJQ is Kolivas, Richie Pratt on drums and Dan Del Negro on piano. The three have worked together as a unit in Honolulu backing other artists, as well as bringing their own common experience playing jazz and working Broadway shows in New York City. Saxophonist Tim Tsukiyama will round out the quartet.

"My vision of it is something of an acoustic group, although everyone is very flexible. At first we'll be focusing on the swing and bebop types of jazz -- Miles Davis styles -- and then, as time goes on, we'll probably branch out into some other things. Most of the people that go to Studio 6 are hard-core jazz listeners, so they know all about the music."

The venue is unique in Honolulu. Held in a spacious rehearsal room, Studio 6 was created several years ago by jazz pianist Rich Crandall and has become one of the best kept secrets in town. Crandall doesn't do much to publicize the weekly Tuesday event, which now includes Wednesday and Thursday performances by various groupings of local and visiting jazz musicians. (Note to first-timers: The night time entrance is in the rear of the building on Waimanu Street and parking can be problematic.)

Kolivas describes it as "a fine venue for jazz musicians."

"Most places you play, there's a lot of noise and people not really paying attention to the music, so it's nice to play at a place where you can enjoy the reaction of a crowd that's following what you're doing."

And, with improvisation an integral part of jazz, Kolivas says that a rehearsal or two allows for a higher level of improv than an every-man-for-himself jam session.

Besides the HJQ and those mentioned earlier, Kolivas has been working on still more projects. He just did some backup work for a visiting singer from the Philippines for two under-the-radar shows last weekend, played a warm-up gig with some other musicians at the studio this past Tuesday and will take his place with the Honolulu Symphony for the Charlotte Church concert tomorrow night.

Kolivas also performed with Keola Beamer at the Waikiki Aquarium late last month and recently completed work on a new album by Kapono Beamer. His work with the Beamer brothers is no mere coincidence; Kolivas was the brothers' musical director when they had a show in Waikiki and was the unobtrusive third man on stage with the brothers when they performed their trademark "Honolulu City Lights" at the funeral of their long-time manager, Kimo Wilder McVay, earlier this summer.

"Playing music in Hawaii, you have to diversify a lot, and I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to play Hawaiian music as well as jazz and classical," Kolivas said. His first instrument was cello but he soon switched to acoustic bass. He picked up the electric bass shortly thereafter and became proficient on both instruments.

Kolivas describes his musical roots as "mostly jazz and Broadway shows," but by the time he graduated from Punahou in 1979, he had started exploring European classical music as well.

Kolivas played his first show with Donald Yap at Diamond Head Theatre that same year and then worked with the Beamers in Waikiki. He then moved to New York City in 1982 and spent the next eight years playing in Broadway shows and immersing himself in the Big Apple jazz scene.

He later came back to Hawaii and auditioned for the Honolulu Symphony in 1998.

"Getting back into classical music with the Honolulu Symphony was a turnaround because I played a little classical in high school. I figured I had to do whatever I could to make a living and enjoyed playing such challenging music," Kolivas said.

Playing both the acoustic and electric bass has doubled his musical options as well.

"A lot of it depends on who I'm playing with and the type of music it is. The acoustic bass has a beautiful organic sound and a big sound. When I play with Keola Beamer, or record with Keali'i Reichel or Kapono Beamer, the acoustic bass really seems to fit with the slack key guitar.

"The electric bass is flexible too. There were some things on Keola's last album where the electric bass fit in well, and when I play fusion jazz with Nueva Vida, the electric bass cuts through better. I've always played both and I like the diversity."

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